Being in this industry of massage and remedial therapy I am often bombarded with advertising that promotes new products that promise all manner of relief and applications along with correction and realignment via new, ergonomically designed and strange looking implements. Straps, prodders, pokers, rotating balls in slings and even vibrating chairs are all products that offer ‘the best massage you’ll ever have’. These products may well offer a great way of easing out some tension and giving yourself some remedial love but they lack one thing - touch. Touch is fundamental to our interactions as humans as a qualified therapist, I am licenced for touch. This in itself is perhaps one of most powerful modalities that we as therapists have at our disposal and no matter how many fancy machines are invented to create results, touch is still one of the most important aspects of being a therapist.
I recently came across an article written on the Critical Physiotherapy Network that talked about the importance of the role as practitioners in being to support our clients in more ways than just evidence based science. It is important to be clinical and have evidence based practices that are proven to provide the best care and known function for treating those people who allow us to work on them but it is also equally as important to understand that we are first and foremost - carers.
Being a practitioner, we provide support and indeed comfort that has a beneficiary aspect of helping our clients to make their way through an injury or an issue that is preventing them from being able to move efficiently or have full capacity. Whilst there is a lot of analytical information to process in identifying how, where and what to do with someone’s ailments, there is also the fundamental aspect of being someone that touches them and this in and of itself creates a whole myriad of responses within the body that all contribute to healing on a cellular level.
Touch is perhaps the oldest therapy known to human kind, and it is likely that people will always need skilled, thoughtful, caring and compassionate touch.
It is perhaps this sense of support and care that comes from touch that can sometimes be the most beneficial aspect of a treatment or a session involved with physical interaction between therapist and client.
I have talked previously about the bonds between the physical and emotional aspects of injury, that the two are indeed connected to each other and for every emotional response there can be a real and tangible physical reaction. This psychology of injury is well documented as to how injury and indeed trauma can create psychological issues that have very real and direct links to our body and our physical responses to injury/trauma via hormones and brain activity from the Hypothalmic Pituitary Axis (HPA). Not just this HPA axis response but the very real issue of trauma and emotional pain associated within an injury can be as tangible as scars. Add to this the associated memory of traumatic events, for example a stabbing incident, and you have someone who may have an area sensitive and hyperactive to touch, recalling past events and actions that resulted in the original trauma. You can understand why there are emotional links to trauma in our body and there is a whole system of interaction that occurs here when touch is applied.
When we are touched there are real physical chemical reactions in our body. Touch illicits the release of oxytocin into our brain and body. This neurotransmitter (incorrectly labeled the love hormone) has a powerful role in regulating our emotions and behaviour. It has the capacity to calm our system, act as an antidepressant, regulate stress responses as well as create a sense of trust and connection. It also has roles to play in sexual arousal, penile and erectile function, childbirth, milk production and also protecting newborns from suffering hypoxia in birth. It is incredibly powerful as a mood regulator and thus can be used artificially during childbirth as well as being a target as a recreational drug.
So as practitioners of a ‘healing’ art or more professionally, as therapists licenced to administer touch, the importance of understanding the implications of physical touch in all its forms is vital to our ability to provide care and relief for our clients. There is some argument that Evidence Based Modalities are the only way to maintain a scientific base to physical treatment and thus maintain the highest standards of care. The scientifically proven application of certain modalities, such as ultrasound for example that create measurable and known reactions in tissues in the body. This perspective is not to be denied, but neither is this opinion a pragmatic approach to all the aspects of treating an injury or a person in pain.
Touch is communication, it is pleasure, it is compassion and it is also diagnostic. Without it we are denying the ability to understand the bigger, wider implications of a presenting issue or injury. Someone with a strong emotional link to an injury or more-so trauma, will require more than a heat pack to feel that they are being ‘treated’ in the best care and way. The very nature that as a therapist we are administering touch sets off numerous process’ in the body that all contribute to the sense of healing. I’ve talked a lot about accessing the parasympathetic state to ensure adequate support for the healing process. Even the ‘all guns blazing’ approach of remedial therapy needs some balance with the calming therapeutic touch to calm the system and bring the emotional state back to one of calm, comfort and a state of rejuvenation and repair.
Touch creates a “calming and suppression of fear whilst also encouraging a sense of trust and connection”. These are not hippie-esque notions of paranormal power, but real and tangible emotional factors that create strong chemical/hormonal reactions within the body. The image of the non-emotional client who doesn’t feel pain or need to address ‘emotion’ breaking down at the first touch of a treatment is a real occurence. We can’t deny that our emotions and our brain have more influence over us than we can physically control or regulate. In this way to deny these elements are a part of our treatment protocols would be to have a rather narrow minded view of the implications of our treatment.
So as practitioners and therapists, yes we need to administer evidence based techniques that specifically target injuries on a detailed cellular level, but also we need to connect with our clients and encourage them to trust our treatment protocols and modalities. All this whilst supporting the physical work we do with real hormonal and chemical reactions on a fundamental level of care and response that help with healing. There is still the vital nature of touch that must form part of our treatment practices for without it we are only addressing half of the equation.